Mistakes, Pains, and Gains of Fuel Removal – Interview with Mr. Odilim Enwegbara

Odilim Enwegbara is a development economist whose specialty is small business development with focus mainly on the intricacies of startup financing in fast emerging economies. With his second-to-none technical, organizational, and financial expertise in small and growth businesses, Mr. Enwegbara remains a sought-after business development and management strategist. A popular columnist, he holds four impeccable master’s degrees from some of the world’s leading universities, including University of London, the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and MIT-Sloan School of Management.

It is now being said that why the president was afraid to go after the cabal is because there is no way he could ‘bite the fingers’ that fed him; against the cabal that sponsored his election. As a respected student of political economy, is it enough to argue that that was why government is afraid of the oil cabal? How true is this Mr. Enwegbara?

Since history is always the best and most credible witness, let me take Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election, which too was bankrolled by some powerful American oil and financial empires in 1932. Notwithstanding his presidential election bills picked up by America’s rich and powerful John D. Rockefeller and John P. Morgan business empires, as soon as he got to the White House, did President Roosevelt waste any time in going after them, crushing the vast political influence they enjoyed for decades? And when his financiers wanted to fight back, didn’t he quickly take the battle to the American people, who he told that their economic future was threatened these two known enemies of America, who in no mean way were behind the very problem he was set to tackle?

Had our president taken the same steps, wasted no time taking members of our oil cabal to Nigerians to know who they and why we should fight them would we be having this difficulty fighting the cabal who inflicted us this unpardonable economic pain? In other words, had he dismembered them upon occupying the Aso Rock, would he be having the present difficulty removing fuel subsidy? Besides denouncing them, had Nigerians watched their president going them with all the powers of the state, of course Nigerians would have taken the fight in their own hands. It was an error not to have deployed the entire power of the state against our cabal. History shows us how great transformers like Abraham Lincoln, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Deng Xiaoping, letting loose the entire power in their possession defeated the economic and political nuisances of the state. Why cabal has become lethal is because they have opportunity to plan ahead because of President initial soft hand.

But making matters worse is the fact that given that ours is the best oil in the world – light and sweet, easy to refine, low in sulfur, higher in gasoline output per barrel, more kilometers per liter, less polluting and environmentally-friendlier – the cabal is in fact fighting us alongside some powerful nations acting behind the scene. That is what makes this war against our cabal messier. Messier since it is in the best interest of these foreign hands that our best oil goes to their countries while our oil cabal imports their own poor petroleum products. Having allowed these monsters in like Russia did, dismembering them is going to require the entire nation working together as an indivisible team.

Given the well-timed visit of IMF’s chief, Mrs. Christine Lagarde, so many Nigerians are expressing their anger because it is the IMF that is pushing our government to embark on this fuel subsidy removal campaign. How true is this argument?

That is another fatal mistake government made. Unknown to government it played into the hands of the oil cabal who carefully orchestrated that visit and made sure that not only was Mrs. Christine Lagarde’s visit well celebrated but also had pictures with our President. You can now understand why the President’s pictures with the IMF chief are now in every newspaper. I think it is a colossal mistake not to have filtered who and who meet with our President and who and who take photos with our president since not only do photos not lie, but photos are more powerful than words and could be misinterpreted. Let that mistake not reoccur in future. Not only should the NSA screen whoever meets the President and why but should carefully evaluate the consequences of such a visitor taking photograph with Mr. President before it should be allowed.

Sincerely speaking, would you agree with Mr. President that he doesn’t need to be a general or a Pharaoh to get things done?

Why sincerely speaking? Have we been insincerely speaking here? Just a joke! It is good you asked this question. My take on this, frankly speaking, is that a difficult nation like Nigeria at this time around should be ruled by an iron-leader like Deng. Fighting to win a big war always requires having a big-hearted general to lead it. Imagine the kind of failure Deng Xiaoping would have run into had he not used an iron-hand on fellow Chinese in his efforts not only to stop his bleeding nation but also to fiercely transform China from a nation littered with economic and social graveyards to an enviable economic powerhouse within few years.

In your opinion Mr. Enwegbara, is it okay for government not to be spread the social costs of this subsidy removal fairly? In other words, why is it only the less privileged Nigerians that should be the only ones to always make sacrifices for this country?

Surely, you have hit the nail on the head. In fact, it is mind-boggling that we as a nation are spending whooping 70% of our national budget on maintaining government’s work force, notwithstanding that it only accounts for less than 2% of the entire country’s labor force. That is an injustice that should never be allowed to go on. Government should quickly reduce cost of running government so that more money could be made available to fix those problems that require government’s hand.

If we agree that the best way to lead is to lead by example, we should then agree that in this mother of all sacrifices, the Presidency and the National Assembly should lead the sacrifice by making their financial recklessness a thing of the past. We need a lean and efficient civil service. Just the same way we should be leaning military and our bloated foreign missions. Following the Deng example, shouldn’t the President boldly and publicly demand that the nation’s over three hundred billions of dollars kept in some foreign accounts be quickly brought home or otherwise he should let loose EFCC to go around the world and find the money and the owners?

For the sake of equity, we should come up with annually renewable auto number plates like the US has. What this means is that there will be three categories of auto plates annually renewed with a fee. For those driving fuel guzzling luxury cars like SUVs (cars ranging from 3.50 onwards) their plates should have red plates with the plate’s expiration month of the year conspicuously shown. The annual renewal of each red plate should attract a minimum of N250.000. For medium-sized cars (between 2.30 and 3.50) the plates should be painted blue with annualized renewal attracting N100.000. For those Nigerians using economy cars (small-sized cars below 2.3), their plates should be painted green with annual renewal attracting only N10.000. Enforcement should have no exception.

For those Nigerians having private jets, the social cost should be paying a tax as high as the cost of the private jet. Also, the will be ban on foreign medical trips for any government official. All personal adverts both broadcast and print media should attract high taxes too.

How come it is only through this removal of fuel that government should raise money? As a respect economist, are you agreeing that there are no other alternatives for the government to raise money for the financing of our infrastructure development?

In expanding country’s

revenue streams, we ought to have overhauled our current tax regime. Could you image how much government is losing for not having fully invigorated our real estate and property taxes, increased taxes on luxury goods and public advertisement taxes (public announcement such birthdays, obituaries, titles and awards celebration, congratulatory messages, etc)?

Since you asked the question, let me use this medium to bring to let the government know that it should be looking beyond present conventional revenue stream. Let us boldly dip our hands into the country’s 37 billion barrels oil reserves and sell off about 10 billion barrels so as generate about a trillion dollars in revenue. Should we be bold enough to do this, no doubt our worries about how to find the money to initiate our full-spectrum economic and social transformation would be over. What this means is with such revenue we would henceforth turn our attention to the real problem of figuring out the best way to reengineer our nation.

Also government should invigorate the process of land use reform in the country so as to ensure that all lands in the country are given their right market value. With market-valued land use reform in place government could go ahead to tax lands in the country accordingly.
Some now shift the whole oil subsidy to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. How true is this rumor that she is using Nigeria as a guinea pig to further her future career agenda of becoming the next IMF chief?

I am happy you called it a rumor. For me, it is full-spectrum misinformation and blackmailing of Okonjo-Iweala. Is this the far we can go? Should she need to inflict such a terrible pain on her fellow Nigerians? Why should she expect that any such a payback could be honored by the west at end of the day? Of course, inasmuch as this country has the best oil, the west can’t just hand such important office to a Nigerian. Let us not forget that Okonjo-Iweala is an internationally respected technocrat who over the years has fully earned herself the respect. This kind of blackmailing someone so specially gifted and tested professional, a visionary, passionate, and patriotic Nigerian is truly unacceptable.

For those calling for the head of Okonjo-Iweala, who they believe to belong to the World Bank gang, I say to them, at least we have in government someone who truly understands the complex game played by the gang. Isn’t it possible that in public she could side with the gang, while in private she helps us design some national strategies to beat the gang? Or, wasn’t it great Deng who said, ”It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice?”

Mr. Enwegbara, please agree with me that the government never expected that the protest would have been all this successful?

People were looking for the avenue to air their anger, as the protest shows it seems they have found it. Don’t forget that what brought most people into the street is not because they are against subsidy removal but because they felt insulted that there was neither serious information out there nor communications platform for them to contribute their opinions as the stakeholders in such an important policy change.

Given that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, in some cases, the cabal found an opportunity to use its vast money and media to infiltrate the protest. In other words, since members of the cabal are also fellow citizens, who having no difficulty dressing like all of us, wearing our kinds of faces, have an ease to appeal to the baseness that lies deep in our hearts, and also with an utmost ease whisper to our emotions, they have had no difficulty, without putting a gun on our heads been successful in destroying our consciousness and selfhood, in tricking us into accepting not only what is not true but fight to defend the status quo that has impoverished us over the years. And by covertly hijacking of our natural ability to empirical analysis, seems they also succeeded in stifling our ability to be skeptical and evidence-driven?

Let me finally ask you, isn’t it justifiable for Nigerians to be angry at someone who they gave a landslide victory to now turnaround to inflict them such colossal pain?

Angry, there is no reason we shouldn’t be. Justified – seeing your government not caring about how you could feel about subsidy removal – yes. Yes, also to be angry seeing that nothing is being done to bring to book those whose looting of our commonwealth has caused us such irreparable economic hardship is not out of place. Or, why shouldn’t the people be angry that their country is the corruption and unemployment capital of the world? I’m in full agreement that Nigerians should be as angry, especially given government’s failure to fully communicate the fuel subsidy removal. That is why I believe that in demonstration of his humility our President should publicly express his sincere apology to all Nigerians for all they went through during the protests, especially the social and economic trauma.

My only appeal at this juncture is let’s not over do it. As it is human to make mistakes so it is also human to forgive, especially when it is an honest mistake. Our President is a very humble leader who fully wants to see this country be where it ought to have been decades ago. I am sure he is not happy seeing the raging anger out there, especially by the same Nigerians who recently trooped out in their millions to see him elected.

But given the rough road ahead of us, it is my appeal that we forgive one another so that together we make this journey. It is only a great leader that can be as boldly as Mr. President is today simply to permanently transform his nation from a poor a nation to a wealthy nation. That is why we should all bear with Mr. President for the pain we are today subjected since with pain there is no gain. We know that is there alternative route to making this unavoidable economic voyage, this government should not waste time taking it. But, then, is it obvious that leading this unprecedented industrialization, urbanization, technology leapfrogging, and agricultural modernization, critical to achieving our 20:2020 ambitions require these sacrifices?

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